(CN) – Environmental groups challenged a plan authorizing oil and gas development on 3 million acres in Wyoming. The Natural Resources Defense Council and four other groups say the Rawlins Resource Management Plan threatens the colorful buttes, cliff and canyons of the Red Desert, and important sagebrush habitat for the endangered sage grouse.
The federal complaint places particular emphasis on “Adobe Town,” a landscape of magnificent sandstone formations that developed over millennia. Adobe Town is not only wilderness-grade land, the groups say, it holds ancient cultural sites.
The Rawlins plan, approved during the waning days of the Bush administration, authorizes almost 9,000 new oil and gas wells and more than 3,000 miles of new roads and other infrastructure in south-central Wyoming.
Only about 109,000 of 3.4 million acres were placed off-limits from energy leases, the complaint states.
Oil and gas development has caused Wyoming to violate air quality standards, especially for ozone, the groups say. Drilling activities release nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds, which are precursors for ground-level ozone, or smog.
The Bureau of Land Management has approved at least 50 drilling permits, the groups say, and seven more parcels are to be leased on Tuesday, May 11.
Stakes and flags already mark drilling areas at six sites, and boring could commence any time despite inadequate public comment and environmental analysis, the complaint states.
The groups say the BLM and Department of Interior used a flawed process in approving the plan, since they failed to take a “hard look” at environmental impacts and consider a range of alternatives. The agencies also falsely claimed that they lack the authority to re-inventory potential wilderness lands, according to the complaint.
Represented by Sharon Buccino, the groups seek injunctive relief preventing the lease sales scheduled for May 11.
Earlier this year, the Department of Interior announced its intention to reform oil and gas leasing policies after reviewing controversial lease sales in Utah in 2008. Despite the planned reforms, the Interior Department has trumpeted an increase in domestic oil and gas production since 2008, including a record-high number of acres in the Gulf of Mexico being put up for lease last year.